Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge?

It's the Discovery Institute's Rob Crowther, of course!

I'm in Texas right now, gearing up for the second round of science standards hearings. I'll be testifying 2nd tomorrow, right after what looks to be a very impressive news conference.

i-2f8ea02963d183012afec036ef3f7d7d-discostyle.jpgAnyway, Crowther, Disco. DJ, is upset that people oppose amendments made in the January meeting. Unfortunately, his complaints simply reveal that Crowther doesn't have any place in debates about education.
First, he claims that the Wall Street Journal is wrong to claim that "The proposed curriculum change would prompt teachers to raise doubts that all life on Earth is descended from common ancestry." Crowther objects:

No, actually teachers wouldn't be raising "doubts," they would be presenting to students not just a one-sided, dogmatic lesson that only discusses evidence for evolution, but also the scientific evidences that challenges [sic] the theory.

First, "evidences"? From the Edwards v. Aguillard oral arguments, after which the Supreme Court found the bill under discussion to be unconstitutional due to its religious intent:

Wendell Bird, defending the bill, explains:

That law defines evolution as scientific evidences supporting evolution, and inferences from those scientific evidences.

In parallel, it defines creation science as scientific evidences supporting creation, and inferences from those scientific evidences.

Jay Topkis, opposing it, observes:

Now, this bill was of course drafted by a theologian, or somebody versed in apologetics.

There's an amusing bit of evidence on that subject in the very language of the bill.

The bill keeps using... the Act keeps using the term "evidences" in the plural.

We lawyers never speak of "evidences" in the plural. We speak of "evidence", the singular. And I got nagged by it, and I looked it up the other day. And of course the only dictionary reference to "evidences" is to Christian apologetics: the evidences for Christianity.

This is a matter of theological disputation.

The Texas State Board of Education is not supposed to be involved in theological disputation, it hardly bears mentioning.

Second, here's the text of the amendment. Decide for yourself whether the WSJ's description was fair:

analyze and evaluate the sufficiency or insufficiency of common ancestry to explain the sudden appearance, stasis, and sequential nature of groups in the fossil record

It invites students to ponder the supposed "insufficiency" of common ancestry, and trots out creationist claptrap about "sudden appearance." To a paleontologist, "sudden appearance" could last millions of years. How many students understand that? How many Board members know that? How many know that among the "evidences" offered by Wendell Bird in 1987 were "abrupt appearance of complex life in the fossil record, the systematic gaps between fossil categories"?

I'd wager Crowther knows, but I doubt he'll mention that when he speaks tomorrow.

What Crowther clearly doesn't know is how science standards work. Like the standards writing committees, and dozens of scientific societies, NCSE objects to amendments offered by Terri Leo which reduce the specificity of the standards relating to evolution. Where before, they began:

(7) (A) identify how evidence of common ancestry among groups is provided by the fossil record, biogeography, and homologies including anatomical, molecular, and developmental.

(7) (B) recognize that natural selection produces changes in populations, not individuals.

Now it begins:

(7)(A) analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces changes in populations, not individuals.

(7) (B) analyze and evaluate how natural selection produces changes in populations, not individuals.

That "analyze and evaluate" language is inserted throughout.

Crowther whinges:

Identify? Recognize? That's what you do when picking suspects out of a police lineup. All such standards do is require that students absorb and regurgitate a one-sided presentation as if it were uncontested. Where's the critical thinking in that?

Actually, "identify" and "recognize" are terms of art in the educational community, drawn from something called Bloom's taxonomy. This is a research-driven hierarchy of psychological skills used in learning, and it dictates the verbs used to begin ever line in the TEKS. The new language is flawed because it mucks with the writing committee's attempts to signal how teachers should emphasize different topics, and Crowther's sneering, ill-informed jackanapery doesn't advance any useful cause.

I understand the desire to be an uninformed jackass, to darken counsel by words without knowledge. I just think it's kinda hypocritical (and counterproductive, now that you mention it) to exhibit an aversion to learning in the very midst of a discussion about how children learn best.

I hope the Board shows exactly the same respect for what Crowther has to say that he shows for what educators have said.

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good luck!